Official: Wolf doesn't plan new COVID-19 restrictions

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Volunteers Leah Bowers of Stewartstown and Chelsea Eziee, 17, of Dover, load food during a pop-up drive-thru food distribution at Red Lion High School Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The event was sponsored by the York County Food Bank and Community REACH, a Red Lion-based community aid organization. Bill Kalina photo

Gov. Tom Wolf has no plans for harsher COVID-19 measures as fellow governors throughout the country reimpose restrictions in response to a fall resurgence.

The hesitation to revive more drastic mitigation efforts comes as infection rates surge throughout the state, a trend health officials say shows case counts are outpacing the state's testing capacity.

Single-day increases are also surging, with York County reporting a record-shattering increase of 238 cases as of Tuesday and the state reporting 5,900 new cases, which was also a record.

"When comparing the state's county case increases and mitigation efforts in the spring to the fall, it is important to understand how much we have learned about the virus and the work Pennsylvania has done," said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger on Monday.

Wolf could call for more serious restrictions "as necessary" in the future, she said.

The Democratic governor first implemented shutdown orders on March 15, shuttering businesses and schools, and imposing restrictions on travel. It wasn't until July 3 that all 67 counties had entered the "green phase" of reopening, meaning COVID-19 restrictions were largely lifted.

More:250 new cases of COVID-19 over two days in York County

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

Kensinger specifically cited the state's work to protect those in long-term care facilities, bolster testing capacity and improve its system to notify the public of COVID-19 exposures through the COVID Alert PA app.

As for the states that have decided to revise reopening plans, their respective governors are simply "now in line with Pennsylvania's mitigation efforts," she said.

The administration's decision not to impose more restrictions on business and travel came one day after Wolf attended an "emergency summit" with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other governors in the region.

Some of those on the call, such as Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, have opted to revise their reopening plans and further crack down on public gatherings.

Cuomo, for example, over the past week has imposed curfews on bars, restaurants and gyms, and has implemented stricter limitations on gathering.

Throughout the country, states such as Michigan and California have also scaled back reopening plans in recent days and implemented harsher restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Some experts in Pennsylvania have agreed that maintaining the state's current course, rather than implementing more stringent mitigation efforts, is what the state should be doing, Spotlight PA reported.

On Tuesday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine unveiled a few updated policy changes, such as a mandate requiring anyone who travels out of state to get tested within 72 hours of entering Pennsylvania, unless they intend to quarantine for 14 days. Levine also extended the state's mask mandate to include anywhere within the state, including inside homes, when social distancing can't be maintained. 

But under Wolf's current restrictions, the state continues to struggle to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus. Pennsylvania's infection rate now approaches double digits.

The statewide infection rate was 9.6% between Nov. 6 and Nov. 12,  the most recent data made available by the state Health Department. That rate was an increase of just less than 3 percentage points over the previous seven-day period, when it came in at 6.8%.

"We know that cases and testing are both increasing, but the increasing percent positivity shows that our case counts are increasing more rapidly than our testing capacity," said Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle.

York County's infection rate was 9.5% between Nov. 6 and Nov. 12, an increase of nearly 4 percentage points from the previous seven-day period, when the infection rate was 5.9%. 

Elsewhere, infection rates are well into the double digits. Juniata County's infection rate, for example, was 21.1%, according to state data.

Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Health Bureau, partially attributed an increase in infection rates to the apparent seasonal component of COVID-19.

That includes the fact that colder weather means people are more often confined indoors. In addition, lower temperature and a change in humidity can contribute to the spread of the virus.

“At any given day to day, there can be other factors that influence where that (infection rate) number goes,” Howie said. “But over time, it makes perfect sense, and it paints a very clear picture of what’s happening.”

Pennsylvania's increase in infection rates have also been met with record-breaking case increases as it attempts to fend off a fall resurgence.

With a seven-day average of 6,214 cases, Pennsylvania as a whole has seen a 122% increase in daily cases per 100,000 people since two weeks ago, according to The New York Times.

That increasing trend is also present in most of Pennsylvania's counties, according to a Spotlight PA analysis that utilizes 14-day trends per 100,000 people.

As of Monday, York County's average for new cases over the past 14 days reached 317 per 100,000 people, the county's highest number on record.

The new cases made it one of 57 counties in the state showing upward trends in case counts, according to Spotlight PA.

York County's 14-day average increased to 351 on Tuesday, but an updated county-level comparison was not immediately available.

As of noon Tuesday, York County had 8,454 cases of COVID-19 and 224 deaths linked to the disease.

Statewide, there were 275,513 cases and 9,355 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.